Abrams Falls Trail at Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the most popular hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Abrams Falls at the west end of Cades Cove has the full Smokies package all in one. Here you can find rich, bountiful forest with a floor of colorful spring wildflowers, a rushing creek that provides refreshing nourishment for all the plants and wildlife, good exercise as you climb up and over Arbutus Ridge to enjoy majestic mountain views, the stunning reward of a picturesque plunge waterfall, and a touch of Smokies history from the Cherokee and settlers who called this region home more than a century ago. I visited Abrams Falls on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 beginning at 10:30AM and ending about 2:00PM. My plan was to take the Abrams Falls Trail to the waterfall, then return. Many, many others got to enjoy it with me.

Hike Length: 5.2 miles Hike Duration: 3.5 hours

Hike Rating: Relatively easy on the way out. Moderate on the way back.

Hike Configuration: Out and back Blaze: None needed

Elevation Change: 355 feet, gain 530 feet Elevation Start: 1,740 feet

Trail Condition: Pretty good. Fairly wide, but plenty of rocks and roots to navigate.

Starting Point: At the cul-de-sac of Abrams Falls Rd at the west end of Cades Cove.

Trail Traffic: While the crowd wasn’t too bad getting to the falls, on the way back I encountered more than a hundred other hikers, and the parking lot was full by early afternoon. This is a busy trail.

How to Get There: Turn right on the unpaved side road (Abrams Falls Road) between sign posts 10 and 11 on the Cades Cove Loop Road (approximately 4.8 miles from the beginning of the loop road). Parking is at the cul-de-sac and is large enough for 100+ cars. Trailhead is on the west end.

 

 

 

As I arrived at the entrance to Cades Cove, my first stop was the campground, to pick out a spot for later in the evening. I could tell this was going to be a great day. All the rangers at the campground had on big smiles and friendly greetings. It’s as if they already knew what a wonderful day was in store for me. With my senior national parks pass, I was able to pay for the site I had chosen at half price. Can’t beat that.

I was anxious to get to the Abrams Falls trailhead, but how can you not take time to enjoy the northeastern side of the Cades Cove loop on the way. There is so much to see and experience along the way. You can’t help but get sidetracked by all the natural beauty and excitement.

I reached the gravel road to the trailhead shortly after 10:00, found a place to park (there were plenty at this time of day), and got everything together to begin hiking. Backpack. Check. Lunch. Check. Camera. Check. Sunscreen. Check. Hat. Check. Tripod. Check. Anticipation. Check & check. Off I went.

The trailhead is on the west end of the parking cul-de-sac, hidden within the trees. There is a fancy foot bridge right off the bat across Abrams Creek, and I could see already that the mountain laurel was beginning to bloom. That’s a good sign. Once you cross the bridge, there is a path to the right that leads to the site of a former lodge operated by kin of John Oliver, the very first white settler who came to Cades Cove almost 200 years ago.

The Abrams Falls Trail turns left after crossing the bridge and parallels Abrams Creek, named for Cherokee chief Abram who lived in a community that is now beneath the waters of Chilhowee Lake. Much of the gorge that was carved by Abrams Creek is sandstone, somewhat unusual in the eastern U.S.

The trail ascends and descends a total of four times out and back, with the largest of the climbs being up and over Arbutus Ridge, named for the trailing arbutus that grows seasonally along its flanks. There is plenty to see here, with the creek on your left, and a wide variety of wildflowers brightening the trail along the way. I was fortunate to spot galax, rattlesnake weed, partridge berry, mountain laurel, solomon seal and bleeding hearts.

 

Bleeding hearts, known as Dicentra, light up shady areas with their elegant long stems and famous heart-shaped flowers.

At the one mile mark the trail crosses a notch at the crest of Arbutus Ridge and offers dynamic views on both the east and west sides of the surrounding Smoky Mountains. From a perch high above, you can see shoals of Abrams Creek a hundred feet below as it cuts through the bright green forest.

In early May, when I was there, keep your eyes peeled on each side of the trail soon after beginning the descent from Arbutus Ridge for the best of the wildflower display. I found both smooth and false solomon seal, blackberry blossoms, buttercups and the healthiest patch of bleeding hearts I’ve ever come upon. Between the view and the flowers it’s a remarkable spot.

As you continue your descent of the ridge you get up close looks at the underlying sandstone bedrock that forms the Abrams gorge. Watch your step as you descend. There are plenty of tripping hazards including exposed roots and rocky terraces. There is plenty of mountain laurel on this side of the ridge, combining with oak and pine to make a delightful scent.

Just past the two mile mark you will be able to see and hear Abrams Falls below you on the left. You will cross a couple of footlogs over Wilson Branch as it joins Abrams Creek just below the falls.

Abrams Falls isn’t the tallest waterfall you’ll ever see… about 20 feet. But it is relatively wide, it almost always has a hefty flow level, and it spills into a wondrous pool that is at least a hundred feet in diameter. There isn’t a whole lot of dry land to view the falls from, so it can become rather crowded, quickly. Because this trail is so popular, particularly on warm weather weekends, it is best to get there early to enjoy the view.

 

 

I managed to find a flat rock in the pool with a clear view of the falls and setup for pictures and the video you see above. I took time to munch on a sandwich and people watch. The weather was delightful with warm air and a cool breeze. The water still had its spring-time chill, so no one was doing more than just dipping their toes.

I could see that the crowd was beginning to grow, so that signaled to me it must be time to move on and give the new arrivals the same chance to enjoy the scene (side note – based on the number of people I passed on my way back that were just then heading to the falls, I suspect there might have been over a hundred folks there at the same time after I left).

Abrams Falls Trail continues beyond the waterfall another 1.7 miles to meet the Hannah Mountain Trail, providing more opportunity to view the sandstone gorge carved by Abrams Creek. On this day however, the falls was my destination, so I began the ascent back up Arbutus Ridge. It is steeper on this side, so you may want to just take your time… nice and easy going.

Past noon now, the trail was really crowded with the later arrivals. Also, even more wildflowers had emerged in the bright sunshine that poked through the tree canopy, particularly the mountain laurel. It took a break at the crest of Arbutus Ridge, enjoying the refreshing breeze on my moist brow, and the marvelous views of the greening forest.

Later, I found another spot along the creek to sit on a log and listen to the cool, clean water go sliding by. The songbirds were in abundance, helping to complete the peaceful, relaxing environment. Probably 20 people walked by while I was there, but I hardly noticed.

When I got back to the car, the parking area was now completely packed, even spilling somewhat down the gravel road. This was a weekday… not spring break… not a holiday… just a very busy place. Get there early!

In summary, it took me a long time to finally get to Abrams Falls. I’ve heard about it for years, but it is the farthest point in the Smokies from where I live in North Carolina. Logistically, I really need to plan it as a two day trip, and so I did. Having now done the hike, I can see why it is so popular. The trail has a little bit of everything and the reward at the end is indeed a very picturesque waterfall.

Since I was camping overnight at Cades Cove, I still had plenty of time to enjoy the myriad of features to be found there. Following are two separate photo galleries. The first goes along with this trail report about my trip to Abrams Falls. Once you have viewed those pictures, come back here and scroll down a little farther. There is another gallery below of my evening spent around Cades Cove. As always, feel free to leave your comments at the bottom below the galleries.

 

 

An Evening at Cades Cove

After the delightful hike to Abrams Falls, I got setup at the Cades Cove Campground, found some excellent BBQ in the quiet haven of Townsend, TN, then did some more exploration of Cades Cove by car. I found plenty of wildlife, an historic cemetery, and the desire to return many, many times. Here are my photos from the evening.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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  • Zachary Robbins

    The coyote is a nice find, surprised it was out during the daylight.

  • Tim Truemper

    Wonderful post Jeff. I especially like the picture that included the meadow parsnip. And is that Zachary from the “Mild Adventures” hiking blog who posted? If it is, like your work. If not, sorry!